Explore Japan’s Extreme North! Hokkaido!
Japan’s northern wilderness of Hokkaido offers a stark contrast to the tightly packed skyscrapers of Tokyo and narrow lanes of Kyoto. This northern territory is renowned for its wide open spaces, breathtaking landscapes, tasty food, and abundance of natural hot springs, just to name a few. With subzero temperatures and heavy snowfall in winter, Hokkaido is an absolute paradise for skiers and snowboarders, but despite this image as a winter wonderland, its cool climate allows Hokkaido to remain refreshingly mild even during the sweltering summer months when other parts of Japan resemble a sauna. This makes it the perfect summer getaway for those looking to escape the heat or break away from the typical beach bum holiday. To get you started, here are some of the most popular spots and our recommendations around this spacious island.
The most populous city in Hokkaido and just half an hour from New Chitose Airport, Sapporo is a common starting point for many a traveler’s journey north. Sightseeing offerings around Sapporo include a number of museums and parks, such as the famous Odori Park where the Sapporo Snow Festival is held each year. Fans of two of the city’s most famous exports will not be disappointed; the Sapporo Beer Factory is a fun stop, and tasty ramen shops abound.
As one of Japan’s first cities opened to international trade, this historical city is known for its foreign-influenced architecture, like the star-shaped fort of Goryokaku, the Motomachi residential district, and the bayside red brick warehouses. Hakodate is also known for its sparkling night view, which is best enjoyed from Mt. Hakodate. With a reputation for excellent seafood and many hotels offering natural hot springs from local Yunokawa Onsen, Hakodate is a favorite among travelers to Hokkaido.
This small port town is home to a number of historical buildings, beautifully preserved since Hokkaido’s colonial period when it served as a major trading hub and railroad terminus. The scenic canal, which is especially atmospheric in the evening when it is lit by lines of old gas lamps, is particularly popular. The sushi here is famously delicious — said by some to be the best in Japan — and those with a sweet tooth will be delighted by Otaru’s numerous confections.
Located in central Hokkaido and blessed with very heavy snowfall in winter, Furano has been growing in popularity as skiers and snowboarders both domestic and foreign discover the area’s top quality powder. However, summer in Furano is not to be missed either with its picturesque rolling hills, fields of vibrant flowers, and idyllic farmlands. Visitors during the summer months should not pass up the fields of lavender, and the farms and vineyards offer opportunities to sample the local produce.
Shikotsu-Toya National Park
One of Hokkaido’s numerous, breathtaking national parks, Shikotsu-Toya is home to the pristine caldera lakes of Toya and Shikotsu, volcanically volatile Mt. Usu, and the famous hot spring resort of Noboribetsu which features some nine different types of geothermal delights. The dramatic landscapes and soothing hot springs of the area will relax both mind and body, and those in search of a bit more stimulation can take advantage of the array of walking and hiking trails.
This quiet town in Eastern Hokkaido makes a convenient point of entry to the wildlife paradise of Daisetsuzan National Park, which is home to Mt. Asahi, the tallest peak in Hokkaido at 2,291 meters in height. The neighboring hot spring resort of Tokachigawa Onsen gives visitors the opportunity to enjoy a rare “moor hot spring” which features springs bubbling up from beneath a marsh rich in organic material; this infusions is purported to give these hot springs particularly rejuvenating and beautifying qualities.
Hokkaido Chuo Bus Tours
For those basing their northern vacations out of Sapporo, these full-day excursions using the Chuo Bus to popular destinations including Otaru, Furano, Lake Toya, and Sapporo itself are a great and easy way to get around and see the sights. Better yet, they are very economical and fit nicely into even the tight schedules and budgets.
JR Hokkaido Packages
These discount rail ticket and hotel packages include round-trip, non-reserved seat tickets from New Chitose Airport or Sapporo to Hakodate, Noboribetsu, Toya, Asahikawa, and Kushiro. While one-night stays are included for each package’s destination(s), but the return tickets are valid for a week, allowing you to make it a short trip or extended stay with the freedom to choose your own additional lodgings.